Reading: Psalm 65
Today I want to talk about Thanksgiving. There are a large number of passages I could have chosen, and the one that I chose I might describe as an example of a genre. You might have heard Psalms described as the Hymnal of Israel — and it is an accurate enough description; the Psalms were sung. I wanted to focus on a Psalm, because there is something about singing that really gets the words inside of us. Songs stick in our head in a way nothing else does.
In any Hymnal, thanksgiving is a topic that demands a number of songs. A quick check in a concordance tells me that I had over 30 Psalms to choose from — and they were familiar to me because the Psalms thanking God are the Psalms that I was taught to sing when I was younger. When I think of something from the Psalms, I think of something like Psalm 100 in the King James version.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
I grew up with Thanksgiving. When I was a child, I learned songs that were thankful, my parents taught me to say “Thank you,” and when I was taught to pray, the majority of the things I was taught to say was “Thank you Lord.” My family did everything they could to make gratefulness a habit — but, to tell the truth, it still takes some effort to be thankful. How is it that something that is so commonly taught to children seems forgotten as people become adults? How do I forget to be grateful when I was taught to stop and thank God before eating? One would think that the habit of giving thanks several times a day would teach gratitude.
Of course, when I think of all the stories I know of in scripture, I see that gratitude isn’t normal. Even though more than 1 out of every 5 Psalms is giving thanks, scripture is full of people who see miracles happening right in front of them, yet they have no gratitude. In Luke, when Jesus heals 10 lepers, only one comes back to say: “thank you.” When Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt, they do nothing but complain, forgetting to be grateful that they were given freedom, that they were given food and water, and that they were saved from the Egyptians.
The story of ingratitude over the Exodus truly stands out, because Passover is a time of celebration and thanksgiving. Whenever I think of Passover the traditional song daienu plays in my head. Daienu is one of those songs that can stick in your head — and is very much about thanksgiving. Daienu means: “it would have been enough.” The song names things where if God had only done that, it would have been enough. The song mentions being freed from slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, God feeding the people with manna, giving the people the Sabbath, giving them the law, leading them to Israel, and giving them the Temple. The song names a number of things where that thing alone should inspire gratitude. There is much is my life where I should be able to say ‘it would have been enough’, yet gratitude does not come easy.
In today’s Psalm, we owe God praise because of God forgave us and offered us salvation, and because the Earth is beautiful and it feeds us. This is a Psalm that thanks God for thanks that we often thing we either earned through our own work, or things that we feel that we don’t need. It is hard for us to be grateful for the things that we feel that we are entitled to what we have.
I think that this is likely one of our biggest problems feeling grateful — we don’t see how much we were given, instead we dwell on what we feel we are owed. It is hard to be grateful for what we have when we feel that somebody else has something that should be ours. Envy and jealousy take away our gratitude and replace it with anger. A sense of entitlement takes away our gratitude, and replaces it with frustration as we often find that we don’t get what we think we are owed. We are trained to be thankful when we are children, but as adults, it is very difficult to admit we have anything that we should be grateful for.
I think that the biggest enemy of gratitude is pride. It is humbling to say: “Thank you.” When we are grateful, we are admitting that we are not completely self-made, but instead somewhere, somebody did us a favor. When we are grateful, we are admitting that not everything that we have is something that we did all by ourselves. Gratitude is admitting that I am not a self made man — this is hard in a world filled with individualists.
One thing that caught my attention this week was that not only are we not grateful — but, when somebody expects a “Thank you”, that person might be offended if no thanks are given. It is easy to expect gratitude, and yet to be too proud to give it. Basically, we want credit where credit is due whenever that credit is due us — but, we are not so eager to give credit to others who deserve it. Because of pride, Thanksgiving can be hard work.
In a few days, families all over the United States will gather and give thanks. Many of them will practice traditions such as naming something that they are grateful for. We will practice thanksgiving — but, may we learn gratitude.